When Is There a Basis for Taking Offense?
AT ECCLESIASTES 7:9, the Bible states: “The taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” This verse shows that we should not be overly sensitive when someone offends us; rather, we should be forgiving.
However, is Ecclesiastes 7:9 saying that we should never be offended by anything or anyone, that we are to forgive all offenses regardless of how severe or how frequent they are and not do anything about them? Should we be unconcerned about our giving offense by word or action because we know that the one offended should be forgiving? This cannot be the case.
Jehovah God is the epitome of love, mercy, forgiveness, and long-suffering. Yet, in the Bible, he is many times spoken of as being offended. When the offense was severe, he took action against the offenders. Consider some examples.
Offenses Against Jehovah
The account at 1 Kings 15:30 speaks of the sins of Jeroboam “with which he caused Israel to sin and by his offensiveness with which he offended Jehovah.” At 2 Chronicles 28:25, the Bible says regarding King Ahaz of Judah: “He made high places for making sacrificial smoke to other gods, so that he offended Jehovah the God of his forefathers.” Another example is found at Judges 2:11-14: “Israel fell to doing what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah and serving the Baals . . . , so that they offended Jehovah. . . . At this Jehovah’s anger blazed against Israel, so that he gave them into the hands of the pillagers.”
There are other things that offended Jehovah and that called for strong action. For example, at Exodus 22:18-20, we read: “You must not preserve a sorceress alive. Anyone lying down with a beast is positively to be put to death. One who sacrifices to any gods but Jehovah alone is to be devoted to destruction.”
Jehovah did not continually forgive the major offenses of ancient Israel when they kept offending him and did not show true repentance. Where there was no true repentance and no actions to indicate that there was a turning around to obey Jehovah, God eventually gave the perpetrators up to destruction. This happened on a national scale in 607 B.C.E., at the hands of the Babylonians, and again in 70 C.E., at the hands of the Romans.
Yes, Jehovah takes offense at the bad things that people say and do, and he even executes unrepentant offenders whose sins are gross. But does this put him in the category of those of whom Ecclesiastes 7:9 speaks? Not at all. He is justified in taking offense at gross sins and always judges fairly. The Bible says of Jehovah: “Perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.”—Deuteronomy 32:4.
Major Offenses Against Individuals
Under the Law that God gave to ancient Israel, there were serious consequences for major offenses against individuals. For instance, if a thief came into a house at night and the householder killed him, there was no bloodguilt on the part of the householder. He was an innocent victim of a major crime. Hence, we read: “If a thief should be found in the act of breaking in and he does get struck and die, there is no bloodguilt for [the householder].”—Exodus 22:2.
A woman who has been raped has a right to be highly offended, as this is a major crime in God’s eyes. Under the Mosaic Law, a man who raped a woman was to die “just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him.” (Deuteronomy 22:25, 26) While we are no longer under that Law, it gives us insight into how Jehovah feels about rape—a horrible wrong.
In our time, rape is also a major crime with severe penalties. The victim has every right to report the matter to the police. In this way the proper authorities can punish the offender. And if the victim is a minor, the parents may want to initiate these actions.
However, not all offenses require action by the authorities. Thus, we should not want to take undue offense at the relatively minor mistakes that others make, but we should be forgiving. How often should we forgive? The apostle Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.”—Matthew 18:21, 22.
On the other hand, there is a continuing need for us to work on our Christian personality to try to minimize giving offense. For instance, when you deal with others, are you at times blunt, tactless, insulting? Such ways are likely to offend. Rather than blaming the victim for taking offense and feeling that the burden of forgiveness is on him, the offender needs to realize that he is the reason that the person took offense. The offender needs to work on controlling his actions and speech so as not to give offense in the first place. This effort will reduce the number of times we hurt the feelings of others. The Bible reminds us: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) When we offend others, even if we did not intend to do so, our making an apology goes a long way toward remedying the situation.
God’s Word shows that we should “pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” (Romans 14:19) When we are tactful and kind, the proverb applies: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11) What a pleasant and delightful impression that leaves! Mild, tactful speech can even change the rigid attitudes of others: “A mild tongue itself can break a bone.”—Proverbs 25:15.
Hence, God’s Word counsels us: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) “Seasoned with salt” means that we make our expressions tasteful to others, thereby reducing the possibility of giving offense. In both word and deed, Christians strive to apply the Bible’s admonition: “Seek peace and pursue it.”—1 Peter 3:11.
Thus, Ecclesiastes 7:9 must mean that we should refrain from taking offense at the relatively minor sins of others. These may be the result of human imperfection or may even be deliberate yet not gross. But when an offense is a major sin, it is understandable that the victim may be offended and may choose to initiate appropriate action.—Matthew 18:15-17.
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Jehovah gave unrepentant Israel up to destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E.
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“As apples of gold . . . is a word spoken at the right time”